How It Felt Inside Hillary Clinton's HQ Last Night

An inside look at Hillary Clinton's headquarters on a devastating election night.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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On Tuesday night, as part of Complex's Flex the Vote coverage of the 2016 presidential election, I was stationed inside the Javits Center, along the west side of Manhattan, where the Clinton campaign held its official election night event. Figures like New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio, pop star Katy Perry, and Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, spoke outside the venue. Inside, journalists and Clinton supporters watched the results as they were announced on CNN and waited for what was supposed to be Hillary Clinton's victory speech. It would've been the conclusion to a presidential race marked by ghastly sexism, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia. That's not what happened.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016

4:43 p.m.: Perhaps the most grizzled NYC cabbie in midtown tried to get me and my crew as close to the Javits Center as possible; our gear is heavy and the walk would be brutal. The air feels supercharged. The city seems tense. There are police at every intersection as we close in. From a CD, our driver plays Stan Getz as he angles us closer to Javits. He's an older white guy in a blue-gray flannel shirt, and he never slouches.

5:49 p.m.: After secret service inspects our equipment, we enter the Javits Center, where everyone is on a phone, laptop, walkie talkie, or ear piece. Everywhere media is setting up, and there's chatter and confusion about which passes get you to what section of Javits. There's Snapchatting, tweeting, live vlogging,  and one person crews with mics and iPhones, shooting themselves and speaking to viewers in Spanish, Slavic languages, and other tongues.

6:45 p.m.: We're positioned on the highest set of risers directly across from the America-shaped blue stage where Clinton will speak. I'm surprised that the room has been carpeted. It's gray. A crowd of hundreds of supporters is led in by security and positioned on a smaller set of risers than the media is using, this one running parallel to the stage so that Clinton's supporters will see her in profile. Like the warm-up for a game show, someone coaches the crowd on when to shout and clap, and how to quickly quiet.

7:06 p.m.: "Brave," by Sara Breilles plays over the Javits Center soundsystem.

7:15 p.m.: "Girl on Fire," by Alicia Keys.

7:19 p.m.: "In Common," by Alicia Keys.

7:35 p.m.: The large screen above the stage has been on for some time now, so that the crowd can watch the election results via CNN and MSNBC. It's like being at a professional football game. Polls have already begun to close.

7:36 p.m.: Someone drops a light stand and light in the press area, but it's fine, everything is fine. Nothing is broken.

7:54 p.m.: Massive audience applause when CNN shows that Clinton is leading in Florida. Until now, the audience has been lively but not particularly exuberant.

7:55 p.m.: "Roar," by Katy Perry plays.

7:58 p.m.: Massive audience applause when CNN shows Clinton leading in Ohio. Relief and joy washes over the audience.

8:06 p.m.: Unsurprised applause when Clinton is announced as the winner in Illinois.

8:19 p.m.: The audience is pumped to be on TV when CNN cuts to the Javits Center interior for the first time tonight.

8:32 p.m.: "The Star Spangled Banner," written by Francis Scott Key plays.

8:36 p.m.: Mayor de Blasio addresses the crowd outside the Javits Center, speaking highly of Clinton's abilities.

8:47 p.m.: Sybrina Fulton takes the stage outside Javits and says, "Secretary Clinton represents strength and hope. Hillary reached out to us," she says, when no other candidate did. The crowd is moved. She finishes her remarks by urging us to "practice love, not hate." The subtext is clear: Trump is hate.

8:56 p.m.: It looks like Florida will go to Trump and the crowd goes quiet, sobered by what seemed like a sign of victory for Clinton just one hour earlier.

9:00 p.m.: The biggest cheer of the night so far goes up when CNN announces Clinton as the projected winner in New York, where she served as senator.

9:18 p.m.: Sharper results are coming in from Florida and North Carolina. The audience is quiet; it's unnerving.

9:34 p.m.: The soundsystem briefly cues up the latest Justin Timberlake single and then quickly fades back to CNN. I can't imagine it made anyone feel better.

9:53 p.m.: Virginia is projected for Clinton and the roar is practically deafening.

10:04 p.m.: A projected victory in New Mexico offers more in the way of hope and joy.

10:14 p.m.: Katy Perry speaks outside of Javits, talking about the "freedom to express our differences" as Americans. She says that she knows her parents voted for Trump, and the audiences is taken aback; there's weird silence as everyone waits for her to make her point. She says that, still, she knows she'll be sitting down at the table with them. There's some applause, but it feels confused, conflicted. I imagine that everyone in the audience is thinking of extended family, colleagues, and friends, wondering who they might want to cut loose if they were to reveal themselves as Trump supporters, and if they'd have the resolve to do that cutting.

11:15 p.m.: More results are coming in and Clinton's chances look increasingly slim. It's grim, grim, grim here. And quiet.

11:57 p.m.: "Real Love," by Mary J. Blige feels like a mean joke coming from the soundsystem.

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016

12:08 p.m.: Many of the anchors on CNN appear to be in disbelief at the state of the electoral map, the attendees at Javits even more so. From the risers, I watch two older white women on the floor face each other and rub each other's shoulders, standing a little closer than arm's length apart. They don't appear to be speaking.

12:11 a.m.: The crowd on the floor is thinning out. Those remaining seem deflated.

12:19 a.m.: CNN's anchors explain, from the large screen, that they're not hearing anything from the Clinton campaign, and people continue to leave the room.

1:00 a.m.: There are three people crying in my immediate vicinity.

1:48 a.m.: On the risers behind the stage where Clinton won't speak, some folks lead a last-ditch clap-and-sway session to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Everything feels broken.

2:00 a.m.: Word spreads via Twitter that John Podesta, the chair of the Clinton campaign, is making his way to Javits to speak in Clinton's stead.

2:06 a.m.: Podesta, almost inaudible at times, both from the frantic audience applause and also because he's not speaking very loudly or clearly, tells us to go home. That we'll wait until morning, when all the votes are counted. Everyone goes home.

2:25 a.m.: Outside of Javits, as word spreads that Trump has emerged to speak at the Hilton, I watch a young blonde woman approach a group of NYPD officers, as if she's going to ask for directions or help. She says, "Can I ask you a question? Do you feel safe with Trump as president?" I don't stick around to hear their answer.

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